Tree to 45 m, 0.9 m dbh. Bark pale or dark grey. Branchlets yellow or brown with short yellow or brown hairs; older branchlets purplish brown, lenticellate. Leaves evergreen, rigid and leathery, 9.5–26 × 4.5–12.5 cm, obovate to elliptic, upper surface dark green and glossy with brown or clear hairs particularly on the midrib, lower surface densely covered with russet, brown or (in var. cinerascens Y.W. Law & Y.F. Wu) silvery hairs; 12–16 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex acute to acuminate; petiole 1.5–3.5 cm long without scars; stipules free from the petiole, densely tomentose. Flowers on axillary shoots, pale yellow to white or greenish white, fragrant, brachyblast 1.3–2.5 cm long with three to four (to five) bracts; tepals 9–12, spathulate to broadly obovate, purple at base, 3–4.5 cm long; stamens yellow with purple filaments; gynoecium stipitate with many tomentose carpels. Fruits 5.5–14 cm long, cylindrical; ripe carpels subglobose or obovoid, black-brown, lenticellate, 0.8–2.2 cm long, beaked. Flowering March to April, fruiting September to November (China). (Chen & Nooteboom 1993; Liu et al. 2004).
Distribution China Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Yunnan, Zhejiang Vietnam
Habitat Evergreen broadleaved and mixed forests, 500–1800 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 7-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Magnolia foveolata is a wide-ranging forest tree in southern China and Vietnam, where wild specimens can be huge, and the fine, straight-grained wood is used in building, furniture making and plywood (Chen & Nooteboom 1993). It shows considerable variation in indumentum colour, leaf shape and size, and flower colour. The stiff, leathery leaves, glossy above, can be very large and impressive. The densely reticulated veins can make the leaf appear foveolate (i.e. pitted), hence the specific epithet. Quite recently introduced, it seems set to become an important garden tree in parts of our area.
Its first introduction to Western cultivation was from Nanjing Botanic Garden, through Piroche Plants of British Columbia in 1993. Others have followed, notably introductions by Tom Hudson from Jiangxi (TH 2285), by Far Reaches Farm, WA (NV 050, N Vietnam) and again from Vietnam by Crûg Farm Plants, Wales (BSWJ 11749, DJHV 06105, WWJ 11929 etc). Some have an amazing russet appressed indumentum on all parts, that shimmers in the light. Others have silvery white indumentum (Figlar 2005; Wharton 2007). Coupled with the breadth and rigidity of the leaves, this confers considerable grandeur on the tree; Peter Wharton, writing before the species had flowered in gardens, commented that when mature it would probably become favoured above Magnolia grandiflora (Wharton 2007).
By the standards of Section Michelia, this is a large flowered species. The long, exserted gynoecium is prominent, and the mass of purple filaments is most striking. Those introductions which have flowered to date have white to creamy yellow tepals, but hopefully yellower forms will join them.
Experimental plantings in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast of North America, and in Cornwall e.g. 6 m × 25 cm in 2014, planted 2001 – Tree Register 2021) have been promising. It has proved completely hardy in Vancouver, BC (Wharton 2007), with only minimal damage from snow in November 2006 and none from the cold. Young specimens are now established further afield in southern and western Britain, as well as in Belgian collections (Plantcol 2021). The wide geographical and altitudinal range of the species means that hardier introductions are likely to rise to the fore. Cultivar selection in this variable species has already begun. In New Zealand and China it has been used as a parent of hybrids with other michelias and more widely, for example the Chinese cultivar ‘Hongjixing’, whose other parent was M. liliiflora ‘Hongyuanbao’ (Lobdell 2020).
Intense, shiny, coppery indumentum on buds, twigs, and leaf backs. Tepals cream-yellow. Selected by Akira Shibamichi, Japan, before 2005. Usually flowering in mid-spring, sometimes earlier (Figlar 2005; Lobdell 2021).